Nikolai Zherdev’s first season as a New York Ranger ended on Sunday in the exact same place it started back in October: at center ice inside the PostFinance Arena in Berne, Switzerland with a trophy in his hands and a medal around his neck. The 24-year old Zherdev, who kicked off the season by winning the Victoria Cup with his New York teammates, topped off his 2008-2009 season by celebrating Russia’s second consecutive World Championship with his countrymen, including former Ranger and fellow Victoria Cup winner Dmitri Kalinin.
In between, the 24-year old winger put up 23 goals and 35 assists for 58 points while playing a full 82-game schedule for the Rangers, falling just three points shy of last season’s career high 61. But the soon-to-be restricted free agent’s future with the Blueshirts became a topic of debate across the Rangershpere after he managed just one point in his final six regular season contests and was held scoreless in his first ever trip to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Zherdev’s debut for team Russia at the World Championship also proved disappointing, albeit for a different reason: During his second shift with the Russian squad, he took a hard snapshot to his left hand. He finished the game and went on to play two more, earning an assist in Russia’s quarterfinal win over Latvia, before x-rays revealed a fracture that knocked him out of the remainder of the tournament and made him a spectator for Team Russia’s gold medal victory over Canada. His participation earlier in the tournament was enough to earn him a gold medal, however, and on Tuesday, Zherdev and his teammates followed up their triumph with a trip to the Kremlin to meet Russian president Dmitry Medvedev.
Zherdev, who’s lack of confidence in his English skills made him reluctant to talk to members of the New York press this season, was a ready participant with their Russian counterparts throughout his week in Switzerland. The majority of those conversations have already been translated here, but the most comprehensive, a sit-down chat with Alyona Shilova of Championat.ru that was conducted the night of his arrival in Berne, has been a week-long translation project which is finally ready for the light of day. In the interview, Zherdev discusses his first season in New York, his difficulties in the playoffs, playing in the KHL, and his plans for next season, among a variety of other topics.
Zherdev: Now I’m actually here, on the team!
Saturday, May 2, 2009 12:59
Author: Alyona Shilova, Championat.ru
Rangers forward Nikolai Zherdev arrived in Berne early yesterday. He dropped his sticks and equipment at the arena and afterwards went to the hotel where he slept the whole day. But in the evening he came down with friends Alexander Radulov and Sergei Mozyakin to have supper in one of the small restaurants in central Berne and take a walk around the city. Afterwards, having wearily flopped in an armchair in the foyer of the hotel, Zherdev gave a detailed interview to Championat.ru. To start, he apologized: he’s tired, he says, and hasn’t recovered [from the time change].
“I’ll talk with you here now, go to my room, take a sleeping pill, and sleep more,” smiled Nikolai, still, as it turned out, not knowing that he’d already take the ice the next day in the game against the Americans.
- I’ve only just arrived. The first day you’re completely wiped out – speaks Nikolai Zherdev – so that you don’t even understand what’s day and what’s night. I slept half the day. I’ve more or less just come to my senses now.
- But you’ve already had the time to take a walk around the city with the guys.
- Well, [it was] to clear my mind a little bit. To wake up, if nothing else. We just went out to eat, had supper, and came back. I was here recently. I like Berne. It’s a beautiful little town. So cozy.
- Do you still have good memories of Berne?
- Of course! We won the Victoria Cup — the first in history. It was very interesting. And the game (with Metallurg Magnitogorsk) was interesting. I hope that my impressions of the World Championship will be even better.
- Everyone here complains that the arena isn’t exactly finished, that there are things that aren’t finished everywhere…
- When I was at the arena this morning, I walked around and took a look — when we played here at the Victoria Cup, it was even worse. But now though they’ve done something [about it].
- And who are you sharing a room with?
- With Radulov. We really know each other well from when he played in the NHL. We often played against one another and spent a lot of time together.
- Had you already gotten in touch with Radulov during the course of the championship?
- No. I had games as well. [I called] (Dmitri) Kalinin a few times. [It was] especially [difficult because of] the time difference.
- You have arrived at the World Championship after such a tough series with Washington, where much energy was expended. And there was such, you know, negativity, probably — it is insulting to lose after leading 3-1…
- No. Nothing like that. Yes, the series was not easy. We led 3-1, and all we needed was one more victory, but — we lost. So it turned out. But what’s [to be] negative [about]? I think that I had an OK season. I played poorly in the playoffs, maybe. But that happens sometimes. It was, after all, the first ever playoff in my career. That is to say, after so many years now I had never played in the playoffs in Russia, or in the NHL either. I was very glad that I got in. But it didn’t work out. So, I have something to work on.
- What are your impressions of the first playoff in your life?
- It was interesting, of course. It was a completely different atmosphere, a slightly different [style of] hockey. There were many emotions. You know, you don’t think about anything else at all. There’s no fatigue. You play only for the result.
- Everyone here rooted for the Rangers, so that the group from Washington would arrive at the World Championship…
- Well, rightly so (smiles). And I suppose that everyone was confident after [it became] 3-1, that Washington would be eliminated, right? It’s difficult to say why it didn’t work out for us. No one relaxed or anything. But they punished us two games in a row [when they evened the series], and the third [i.e. the deciding, seventh] game was actually even. But the game came down to a goal. And they scored it on us in the end. Of course, our [Russian] guys there in Washington went all out for the victory. Ovechkin, Semin, Fedorov, Varlamov in goal.
- And all you needed to do was just finish off your opponent at 3-1…
- Yes. In the sixth game, when we played at home. We could have won at home easily.
- And were you satisfied with your game this season? You said, that in general the season wasn’t bad, but you played much better in the regular season.
- The season wasn’t bad, but the playoffs, yes, it didn’t work out for me. So I’m satisfied with the [regular] season. And the playoffs… I tried. But somehow I had no luck at all. First of all, the game there is completely different, and I was nervous in the beginning. But all right already, what’s the point in discussing the past? (Smiles).
- Nevertheless, [head coach] Vyacheslav Bykov said that he was pleased with you in the seventh game.
- He was pleased with me?
- Yes. Was there a reason?
- Well then, yes. I played. I did everything that I could. I wasn’t lucky in any way. The chances were there and the game was there, but I couldn’t do anything – neither score, nor make a pass.
- Did you communicate with our guys from Washington?
- Over the course of the series, no. The atmosphere [in the playoffs] was such that we were always with our teams. In the playoffs everyone [spends] more [time] with the team. They were in a hotel, we were too, but in another one. But during the season, certainly, we communicated. But there weren’t any bets or anything like that between me and anyone or Ovechkin and anyone about who would win (laughs).
- You were not just now invited to the national team, correct Nikolai?
- Yes, it was already when Vyacheslav Arkadevich [Bykov] came to America. They came to one of our games, we met afterwards. We agreed that if we were eliminated in the first series, I would come. And if we weren’t eliminated they, from Washington, would come.
- In other words, after the series ended there were no questions?
- No, I immediately gathered my things and came here. It turned out that we arrived [in New York from Washington] at night after the game, and the next day I made all the arrangements; I needed to talk with the coach, with the manager, and in the morning I flew here straight away.
- But your contract with the Rangers will be extended for next season? Or… what are your plans?
- No, I have nothing yet. No plans at all. The main thing now is playing well at the World Championship and I’ll decide what’s what later. After the championship I’ll call management to resolve it, see how they feel.
- But you wish to extend with the Rangers?
- Yes, I do.
- And won’t you return to Russia? Has Radulov not yet advertised the KHL [to you]?
- But Radulov… (smiles). No, I don’t want to for the time being. I’ll always have time [to play] in Russia (smiles).
- You didn’t follow our season at all from America?
- Why [would you think that], I looked at all the results on the Internet. [To see] who’s doing what.
- But is there an interest in the KHL overseas? Denis Grebeshkov said that they only release negative things about the KHL to the public, and if it’s something good — they’re silent.
- That’s true, yes. As soon as something [bad] happens, they show it right away, discuss it in detail. But normally, to tell anything about Russia — that doesn’t happen, of course.
- You’ve already spoken with Bykov on the subject of what your role will be on the team and with whom you’ll play…
- Not yet. I’m still in a very sleepy state. Consider how long my flight was. I think that that will all happen tomorrow.
- In other words, you still don’t know that you’ll play against the Americans tomorrow? It’s already been announced.
- No, we haven’t talked [about it] at all yet. But I thought that I’d play. I came here to play, and not just [for the hell of it] (smiles). There just hasn’t been any time to talk. I slept all day, now I’ve eaten and again I’ll sleep. At the morning skate I’ll understand whats going on. I knew from the beginning that I would play against the Americans. I came here and there shouldn’t be any questions [about] whether you’re tired or not. [Whether] you want to sleep or not. If you came to play, you have to play. Here, you can’t say anymore, ‘you know, I didn’t sleep well, my flight was too long’. If you came to play for the national team, if you put on the Russian jersey, you just have to get on the ice and play. You can’t pay attention to anything else, ice, sticks or something else.
- And would you say that you can already show a good game tomorrow? The next day after a flight…
- Yeah, c’mon. What the big deal? I’ll have a nap, and everything will be fine. Tomorrow I’ll skate in the morning. And by the same token, the difference will be — that if it’s evening here, for us there it’s daytime. Not a [late] night game, so it’s fine.
- You’re well acquainted with the Americans. How should we play tomorrow to win?
- We just need to play our hockey. As a team. And everything will be fine.
- It seems like the American’s don’t try hard here at all. They walk to restaurants before the game, they came with their wives. Goaltender Robert Esche went to the game with Sweden by tram…
- Is that so? (laughs) They always take their wives with them when they go to Europe. I haven’t quite figured out yet, who arrived here with whom.
- They say that this world championship is not important at all.
- Really? Why? On the contrary! This is the World Championship! Everyone wants to get here. And everyone wants to win. Because it’s very prestigious.
- And do they follow the World Championship in America?
- In America they don’t know about this at all, thats the feeling [I get]. It’s the Stanley Cup playoffs there now. They don’t broadcast anything else at all. Maybe only the Canadian games. Though personally I didn’t see any games at all.
- In other words, it’s pointless to ask you about Team Russia’s game?
- I didn’t see them at all. And I had no time there. I only looked at the results on the Internet, read some things. Our roster is good, it’s a very strong team. It’s not even necessary to say — it’s clear that Team Russia is one of the leaders.
- Is it realistic to defend the title of champions?
- We’ll see. I won’t say anything for the time being. We should, and that’s it. That’s the goal.
- And are the Canadians the main rivals?
- I wouldn’t say so — that is, that it’s Canada alone. I can’t say that only the Canadians and Americans are our rivals. The Swedes, Finns too.
- It’s just that the Canadians are playing like some kind of monsters now, their games are so one-sided.
- I wasn’t interested in the Canadians, I only followed Russia (smiles).
- How much of a surprise was the invitation to the national team for you in general? Just before the last World Championship Bykov also asked about you…
- That was last season, so it’s not necessary to think about it any longer. Now I’m actually here, on the team! Therefore I must go out and thats it. I wanted to be invited, of course. I tried to prove with my play, that I was worthy of the national team. And here I am.
- Its your first time at the World Championship. What does it mean to you? What do you expect?
- Yes, it’s the first time. It’s prestigious to play in such a championship, especially for Team Russia. I’m very pleased. Of course, I’d like to show only the best that I can now. I very much want to win — it hasn’t turned out with the Stanley Cup so far.
Thanks to Anna and Vlad for their help with the translation.
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